Setting the stage: No. 5 OU vs. No. 12 NDSU

OU's quest for a championship begins Thursday night in Spokane, Wash., when the Sooners take on North Dakota State.

Coming off an impressive regular season, Oklahoma is ready for the NCAA Tournament. And SoonersIllustrated.com is here to get you ready for each of its tournament games.

No. 5 Oklahoma (23-9) vs. No. 12 North Dakota State (25-6)

When: 6:27 p.m. CST Thursday

Where: Spokane, Wash.

TV: truTV

For the first time since December, the Sooners are getting ready to play somebody not in the Big 12 conference.

It has been 19 consecutive battles against conference foes where OU was able to survive going 12-7 and earning second place during the regular season with a 12-6 record.

No easy task.

"It has been a great league," coach Lon Kruger said. "You know if you don't play well, you're going to get beat because we're playing against good people and good players."

The league was rewarded on selection Sunday with seven of the conference's 10 teams earning a berth in the tournament.

The grind tested the Sooners mentally, maybe even more than physically. No matter what happened Kruger made sure the team stayed on an even keel. He praised his players by saying they have learned from every experience.

And they've had some experiences this season and have seen a variety of styles. The conference grind didn't break OU, but it has certainly helped it get ready for the grind that's ahead now.

"I think we enjoy playing great teams like that, but I think it also got us ready for every team in the country," sophomore forward Ryan Spangler said. "We've faced little lineups. We've faced big lineups. I think it's got us ready to guard any kind of lineup."

North Dakota State brings a lot of experience with three seniors in the starting lineup and everybody being at least 6-foot-3 or taller. The Bison have also won 14 of their last 15 games and won the regular season and conference tournament in the Summit League.

But it's not about what has been done but about what's going to happen going forward.

"It's not about what we've done this season and not about what North Dakota State has done this season," Kruger said. "I know our guys will invest the time and put forth their best effort."

The winner plays the San Diego State-New Mexico State winner in the round of 32 on Saturday.

Starting lineup

Oklahoma

F Ryan Spangler, 6-8, So.

F Cameron Clark, 6-7, Sr.

G Isaiah Cousins, 6-4. So.

G Buddy Hield, 6-4, So.

G Jordan Woodard, 6-0, Fr.

North Dakota State

F Marshall Bjorklund, 6-8, Sr.

F Trayvonn Wright, 6-7, Sr.

G Taylor Braun, 6-7, Sr.

G Lawrence Alexander, 6-3, Jr.

G Kory Brown, 6-4, So.

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